It's been more than five years since the water crisis began in Flint, Michigan. It all started in April 2014 when the city switched their water supply to the Flint River in an effort to save money. Inadequate treatment of the highly polluted water resulted in corrosion in the pipes, which leached lead into the city's drinking water, exposing over 100,000 residents to elevated lead levels. According to The Verge, "The more polluted a water source is, the more processing required to make the water safe to drink." And this didn't happen in Flint for several years. After national, state and city efforts (and several lawsuits) to clean up Flint's water supply, state officials believe they are finally on the right track. But many people still have their doubts. In January 2019, Michigan congressman Dan Kildee said that Flint's water is still not safe to drink, but said he believed the city was making progress.
If you read the headlines, similar stories are still playing out across the country. According to a July 2019 article by the Business Insider, a pediatrician who helped uncover elevated blood-lead levels in children in Flint, has declared that the water crisis in Newark, New Jersey has surpassed the situation in Flint. While the city if offering short-term solutions, it's unclear if there are any long-term plans to make Newark's drinking water safe.
Many schools with aging infrastructures also have lead pipes. Recent testing in states across the country have revealed unsafe levels of lead in drinking water. Last month, California's State Water Resources Control Board confirmed that almost one in five California had unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water.
What is a Safe Level of Lead?
So what is considered a safe level of lead? For children, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women, no amount of lead is safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that water from fountains in schools not exceed 1 ppb (parts per billion) of lead. But what's considered a safe level in our home? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says below 15 ppb is safe. Anything above that, and you need to take action.
Is Lead in Your Water Supply?
If left untreated, lead exposure can cause a host of serious physical symptoms, including cognitive delays in children, memory loss, and seizures. So how can you ensure your water supply is safe?
The first place to start is with your local water utility company. The EPA requires all community water systems to deliver an annual water quality report, called the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). You can request a copy from your local water utility or you can click here to find your local CCR. If you aren't satisfied with the data in this report, you can have your home tested by a certified state or local drinking water authority. According to the EPA, tests costs between $20 and $100.
Reducing Lead in Your Water Supply
There are short-term and long-term ways to reduce lead in your water supply. Unfortunately, long-term solutions may include completely replacing lead pipes in your house, which can be costly. According to Chip Glennon, Owner of Chip Glennon Real Estate Experts, "The only way to completely eliminate the risk of lead is to get rid of it entirely, which might not always be realistic."
So what can you do? Chip recommends getting a certified lead-reducing water filter that has been verified by the National Sanitation Foundation. He also suggests other short-term solutions, such as using bottled water for drinking, and flushing your pipes with cold water. (Chip notes that flushing your water system with hot water "encourages lead pipes and solder to flake off.")
For more information about how to keep your water supply safe, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's site, as well as Chip's comprehensive Lead Safety Guide. The more you know about water safety, the faster you can take action to keep your family safe.